- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

The single most important effect of the report of the September 11 commission may prove not to be its lessons about the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon or the new intelligence “czar” it recommended to try to prevent a repetition, possibly vastly more devastating. Rather, the commission’s biggest contribution may have been making it politically possible to name our enemies — an essential prerequisite to understanding what we are up against and to dealing with it effectively.

As the commission put it: “The enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism — especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology.”

The commission went on to declare unanimously: “Osama bin Laden and other Islamist terrorist leaders draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within one stream of Islam … motivated by religion and [it] does not distinguish politics from religion, thus distorting both. … Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on September 11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe. … The second enemy is gathering, and will menace Americans and American interests long after Osama bin Ladin and his cohorts are killed or captured. Thus our strategy must … [prevail] in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism.

It hardly seems coincidental that President Bush for the first time observed in remarks last week that, “We actually misnamed the ‘war on terror.’ It ought to be [called] ‘the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the Free World.’ ”

Obviously, Mr. Bush’s new moniker for the conflict won’t fit on many bumper stickers. But it marks a dramatic and welcome departure from politically correct euphemism that left millions of Americans confused about whom we are fighting and why.

The September 11 Commission made itself clear on both points: “Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: To them, America is the font of all evil, the ‘head of the snake,’ and it must be destroyed or utterly converted.” And “[The Islamist ideology] is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it, there is no common ground — not even respect for life — on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated.”

What makes this bipartisan assessment so important is that it departs dramatically from the demands of self-declared “leaders” of the Muslim-American community. For years, organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim Council (AMC) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council have been romanced by the Clinton and Bush administrations. Even now, they are assiduously courted by the Kerry campaign, the candidate’s wife having recently discussed empathetically their oft-repeated claim to victimhood in the face of alleged ethnic-profiling, hate crimes and Patriot Act-driven infringements on their civil liberties.

In exchange for their support, politicians are expected to refrain from addressing what the commission called a “long tradition of extreme intolerance” within Islam. For example, CAIR’s legal director, Arsalan Iftikhar, pronounced in an Aug. 3 opinion article in the Dallas Morning News that when the September 11 commission spoke of “Islamist terror,” it “seem[ed] to stigmatize anyone with ties to Islam.” Noting that not all terrorist attacks in America have been by adherents to radical Islam, Mr. Iftikhar would have us believe “the term ‘Islamist terrorism’ is nothing more than an oversimplification of our complex and kaleidoscopic national security paradigm.”

In fact, the September 11 commission was not oversimplifying our “national security paradigm.” Rather, the panel was helpfully illuminating its true nature: We confront less a clash of civilizations than “a clash within a civilization.”

The panel deems this a struggle between those of the Islamic faith who wish to be a part of a modern society enjoying “tolerance, the rule of law, political and economic openness, the extension of greater opportunities to women” and “Islamist terrorist organizations” who are “violently opposed” to such cultural and religious evolutions.

One reasons many of the most prominent Muslim-American organizations refuse to admit to these realities appears to be that the sympathies of some of their key associates — if not those of the organizations themselves — lie with the Islamists. Notably, to the fury of many of his cohorts, the founder and longtime driving force behind the American Muslim Council, Abdurahman Alamoudi, recently entered into a plea bargain in which he admitted to plotting acts of terror with Libya. Several officers of CAIR have been prosecuted successfully for their terrorist ties. And MPAC’s executive director, Salama Al-Miryati, has defended Hezbollah, protested indictments of Islamist charities for supporting terrorist causes and declared the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon “was not, strictly speaking, a terrorist incident.”

It must be counted as progress that official Washington can now talk openly about who the enemy is. The next step toward defeating our Islamist foes is to get a better handle on who their friends are, in this country and elsewhere, organizations and state-sponsors — and to begin helping moderate Muslims who reject Islamism prevail over those who do not.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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